Yehuda Amichai: Jerusalem is a Port City (From Hebrew)

A prominent component of the following poem is the Western Wall (i.e. the Wailing Wall) which had finally become accessible to Jews after the conquest of the city's Eastern half in 1967. Indeed on the very day of that conquest, the Israeli military, with the government's assent, set about making the wall more visible by bulldozing the entire Arab neighborhood that had been built right next to it, and creating a massive goliath of a plaza in front for the circulation of tourists and worshippers. As the penultimate part of a 22-part cycle entitled "Jerusalem 1967" written soon after the Six Day War, "Jerusalem is a Port City" angles toward the flavor of excitement that swept the Israeli mindset after the victory. The one after it, by contrast, begins with the words "Jerusalem is Sodom's twin city."

Jerusalem is a Port City
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of the ages of ages.
The Temple Mount is a great ship, a pleasure yawl
In splendor. From the portholes of her Wailing Wall, jubilant saints
Peer like passengers. Hasidim on the pier wave
Goodbye, yelling hurrah, bon voyage. She
Is always docking, always embarking. And the fences and docks
And policemen and flags and churches' high masts
And the mosques and the smokestacks of synagogues and the chanteys
Of praise and mountain-billows. The ram's horn1 sounds out sunset: one more
Has set sail. Yom Kippur sailors in white uniforms2
Ascend between the ropes and ladders of tried-and-true prayers.
And the profits of market and gates and goldencap domes:
Jerusalem is the Venice of God.


1- The ram's horn: the shofar blown at sunset at the end of Yom Kippur, signifying the divine judgment of all mortal souls.
2- Orthodox Jews wearing the white kitel or gown which is traditional for Yom Kippur

The Original:

ירושלים עיר נמל
יהודה עמיחי

יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִיר נָמָל עַל שְׂפַת הַנֵּצַח.
הַר-הַבַּיִת אֳנִיָּה גְּדוֹלָה, סְפִינַת שַׁעֲשׁוּעִים
מְפֹאֶרֶת. מֵאֶשְׁנַבֵּי כָּתְלָהּ הַמַּעֲרָבִי מִסְתַּכְּלִים קְדוֹשִׁים
עַלִּיזִים, נוֹסְעִים. חֲסִידִים בָּרָצִיף מְנַפְנְפִים
לְשָׁלוֹם, צוֹעֲקִים הֵידָד לְהִתְרָאוֹת. הִיא
תָּמִיד מַגִּיעָה, תָּמִיד מַפְלִיגָה. וְהַגְּדֵרוֹת וְהָרְצִיפִים
וְהַשּׁוֹטְרִים וְהַדְּגָלִים וְהַתְּרָנִים הַגְּבוֹהִים שֶׁל כְּנֵסיּוֹת
וּמִסְגָּדִים וְהָאֲרֻבּוֹת שֶׁל בָּתֵּי הַכְּנֶסֶת וְהַסִּירוֹת 
שֶׁל הַלֵּל וְגַלֵּי הָרִים. קוֹל שׁוֹפָר נִשְׁמַע: עוֹד
אַחַת הִפְלִיגָה. מַלָּחֵי יוֹם-כִּפּוּר בְּמַדִּים לְבָנִים
מְטַפְּסִים בֵּין סֻלָּמוֹת וַחֲבָלִים שֶׁל תְּפִילוֹת בְּדוּקוֹת.
וְהַמַּשָּׂא וּמַתָּן וְהַשְּׁעָרִים וְכִפּוֹת הַזָּהָב:
יְרוּשָׁלַיִם הִיא וֶנֶצִיָה שֶׁל אֱלֹהִים.


  1. I would suggest that the opening line be
    Jerusalem is a port of the shore of eternity.

    נצח means eternity, which is a beautiful word in English, whereas the ages of ages just sounds wrong and also doesn't fit the rhythm of the line, which in the original is quite short.

    I love this poem and your translation does it justice.

  2. I meant -
    Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.